It has been a long time since the people of California’s Inland Empire had much reason to smile. Many of its small desert communities were crushed by the collapse of the housing market eight years ago, and few have recovered.
The people of Adelanto have it especially tough. This town of 31,000 residents is really only known for one thing: the prison in its midst. Fresh inmates come here, but most other people do not.
So bad is the situation that Adelanto ranks lower than any other Inland Empire city on measures of economics, crime, and demographics. Even nearby Barstow does slightly better.
With a median household income of just $37,000, Adelanto is one of the poorest places in California, and there are few reasons to be especially hopeful, save one: marijuana.
Adelanto previously voted to ban cultivation and dispensaries
The town has historically rejected cannabis businesses, voting to ban cultivation and dispensaries – just like many other communities in the area. This decision tracked the fears of residents who worried marijuana would bring more trouble on the heels of a long local addiction crisis.
But the fear is fading. Adelanto’s city leaders voted in September to take advantage of legalization as a way out of the community’s difficulties. Statewide legalization of marijuana is likely coming in the November election, and there’s a good chance pot could be legal for recreational use by the end of the year.
The city offers one big advantage for the cannabis industry: lots of open land for cultivation. And that advantage is already bringing in people with millions of dollars who want property and legal permits to grow marijuana.
Adelanto’s move makes it just the second city in Southern California to allow commercial cannabis cultivation. City leaders hope that fact will give them a leg up on neighboring communities.
Encouraging local investment
Interest in real estate has boomed since the city began moving toward marijuana, said Joesph Brady, president of Bradco Companies, a real estate firm. Within the last six months, Brady said, he has gone from receiving one call a week to five a day.
“I’ve had a broker’s license since March 1980,” he said. “I have never in my life seen anything like this happen.”
Previous efforts to jump-start Adelanto’s stalled economy included promises to bring solar energy plants to town, with jobs and good salaries and a chance to end the ongoing recession. But the few businesses that came offered little in the way of jobs.
City officials hope the green rush will do what the solar plants couldn’t. An open question is how much they want to charge growers for licenses and taxes.
If Adelanto follows the lead of Desert Hot Springs – the only other Southern California city that permits cultivation – the city could generate $6 million per year, roughly half its annual budget. Or leaders could try to levy bigger taxes for more money – though that could backfire.
There is irony in the fact that legal cannabis is coming to a city known almost exclusively for its prisoners, many of them locked up on drug charges. It is also ironic that the value of marijuana-growing land has climbed so high one of the city’s biggest manufacturers, maker of the Predator drone, could soon leave town because landlords can make more money off pot.
Should small towns like Adelanto rely on legal marijuana to stay afloat, or should they try to build a more diverse tax base? Comment below.